Saturday, November 18, 2006

God and our government

When America was founded in was undeniably built upon Christian principles. In the last couple of days I've seen from two different sources that our 3-branch system of government was based on Isaiah 33:22, which says:
For the LORD is our judge; the LORD is our lawgiver;
the LORD is our king; he will save us.
You can see the branches:
"our judge" - Judicial Branch
"our lawgiver" - Legislative Branch
"our king" - Executive Branch


Keith Taylor said...

Yes, I have those very verses in my Bible circled and those same notes in the margin. I didn't date it and I don't know who said it, but it was at least 4 or 5 years ago that I heard it and wrote it.

Brian said...

Not that I deliberately try to be a troublemaker, but part of this doesn't quite fit with the early American republic. The conception of the presidency for the majority of US history was an executive, not a figurehead. The framers believed power rested in the legislative branch, not the executive. The presidency was a relatively low profile office (remember John Quincy Adams, I believe, who returned to the House of Representatives after being President).

It wasn't until the late 19th century that the Presidency began to be seen in the "king" role. And even then, some argue it didn't really develop into the presidency we know it as today until FDR. Our conception of the President as leader of the country is relatively new, historically.

Jason Woolever said...

hey brian. i see your disconnect. i had never heard it before, then i heard it from two places in one day.

Jason Woolever said...

by the way, i don't see you as a trouble maker at all. your actually conversing and responding about difficult topics, which is what i think we need to be doing. thanks for offering the opinions needed to stimulate growth.

Keith Taylor said...


The point is that the framers divided the Federal Government into the three branches as outlined in Isaiah 33:22.

What you are pointing out is how "strong" or "weak" the Executive Branch is in relation to the other two. That has changed over the history of the Republic, but don't always assume because someone says "king" that implies a monarch with absolute power. The Britsh monarchs post Oliver Cromwell have been very weak compared to their predecessors, but they are still the monarch. A monarch or a president or is still a "king", regardless of how much or how little real power they have.

Brian said...

But Keith, the problem I have is I'm not aware of any evidence that that particular passage influenced the framers. I can't find any reference to it in the Federalist Papers or the documents from the Constitutional Convention.

The framers explicitly wanted to avoid any perception that the President was a king. Citing this reference strikes me somewhat as proof-texting. It also trivializes the evidence that exists that framers didn't want a state religion - they had just escaped that.

Jason Woolever said...

Something I realized while studying the works of the Reformers and the early church fathers is that proof-texting has always been a part of the church. For some reason it has been given a really bad name in the last 10 or so years, and is associated with bad doctrine. However, proof-texting in itself is something that we all do and is essentially to any conversation that uses Scripture. But when we say, "That sounds like proof-texting," we almost always mean it in a negative way that minimizes whatever point is being made.

Holy Pirate said...

Re: proof texting...

I am very wary of anything that smacks of it, perhaps to an extreme. But I think your assessment it is right on target, Jason. It's all a matter of whose ox is being gored.

Was Jesus proof texting when he responded to temptations in the wilderness? ;-)

Anonymous said...


I proof text, therefore I exist in the Christian community. To me, it is the churches that have lost their concept of biblical authority that have given proof texting a bad name.

Two articles to submit for your perusal.

This is a good explanation of Federalism with examples of Christian demoninations being examples of federalism.

This is a opposing viewpoint that a separation of powers opposes a government united under the Lord.

John Flores
Frisco, Texas

Brian said...

I would argue that this is proof-texting for a couple of reasons. For those that want to believe the US is a Christian nation, it is easy to snip this bit of scripture and say, "Ah! Here's what guided the founding fathers!" when in fact, there doesn't appear to any evidence that this is the case. Second, what we see in the passage isn't anything truly representative of our form of government. Every government (democratic or despotic) needs a way to make laws, enforce laws, and adjudicate disputes. The innovation of the US system is that those are functions are separate and the power of those institutions is limited by checks and balances. Finally, I haven't seen anything in the Bible advocating for representative democracy. Frankly, most of the forms of government we see in scripture would pretty repugnant to us.

The question of whether our nation is a "Christian" nation is very complicated, and I don't believe this passage has an true explanatory power in this situation.

Brett said...

I really doubt that any founders had this verse in particular in mind when creating the 3 branches. It's been a while, but I studied the Federalist Papers in depth while in college, and it was a vigorous defense of ratification of our Constitution, and the 3 branches and separation of powers were written about extensively. I think if it ever entered any founders mind, it would have been mentioned there.
It's kind of cool, though. However, when I stopped to really think about it, we have replaced the LORD with something man made.

Nick Draper said...

Along with what Brian said about there being scant positive evidence for us being built on specifically Christian principles, there is some negative evidence. All the cool kids (including most of the Founding Fathers) were Deist in the 18th century. Most of the government concepts were coming from the Enlightenment project, which valued what are today called "Judeo-Christian" concepts. These are loosely based on Biblical concepts, because for centuries Western society had been built on these things. The thinkers of the time were rebelling against Christendom, but they hadn't escaped the worldview. We're in a similar situation with modernity and postmodernity today. So our governmental framework is built on concepts that can be found in the Bible, but I don't think the evidence justifies saying that the Founders were trying to create a Christian nation.


JD said...

This is one reson I refuse to ultimately discuss politics on my blog. While my faith will influence my politics, my politics should not influence my faith.

On that note, I have always believed this passage in Exodus to be a basis for the structure of the Judicial Branch of America.

Exodus 18:17-27 (New King James Version)

17 So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. 18 Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself. 19 Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do. 21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you. 23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”

24 So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.

27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way to his own land.

Let's all chew on that for a bit....please :)

Jason Woolever said...

I have to admit that I haven't thought about this verse's relationship to history too much.

The sources that I got it from were the Focus on the Family "The Truth Project" and the Chuck Colson book I've been reading.

Thanks for the discussion.